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Recreational Cocaine Users at Higher Risk for Heart Issue

November 05, 2012

Recreational Cocaine Users Are at Higher Risk for Heart Attacks

Needles, bags of heroin and cocaine discovered when the NYPD Firearms Investigation Unit served a search warrant in Bronx, New York. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Redux

Occasional users of cocaine have higher blood pressure, stiffer arteries, and thicker cardiac muscle walls, all risks for heart attacks, than non-users, according to a study.

The heart abnormalities were found in recreational cocaine users long after the effects of the drug wore off, researchers said in a study presented today at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting in Los Angeles.

The research was inspired by a wave of cocaine-related heart abnormalities in otherwise healthy adults, according to a statement released by the medical group. There was no evidence of “silent” heart attacks, as previous studies have shown. Also unlike in most earlier reports, these cocaine users weren’t addicts with a daily habit, just social users.

“It’s so sad,” Gemma Figtree, the lead researcher and a cardiologist at the University of Sydney, said in a statement. “We are repeatedly seeing young, otherwise fit individuals suffering massive heart attacks related to cocaine use. Despite being well-educated professionals, they have no knowledge of the health consequences of regularly using cocaine.”

Study participants, with an average age of 37, reported using cocaine at least once a month in the past year. At least two days after their last use of cocaine, the 17 men and three women had their blood pressure taken and underwent cardiac imaging to assess their heart health. Researchers compared the findings in that group to similar non-drug users.

Scientists found 18 percent greater thickness in the heart’s wall, 8 mm Hg higher systolic blood pressure and a 30 to 35 percent increase in aortic stiffening among the 20 healthy cocaine users, compared with 20 non-using peers.

Stiffer vessels elevate blood pressure, making the heart work harder to pump blood through the limbs. That leads to thickened walls in the heart. The increased pressure on the heart leads to higher risks of heart attacks and strokes.

Scientists aren’t sure how social cocaine use may cause the blood vessels to stiffen. The next step is to determine what might be causing the ill effects, Figtree said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Lopatto in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at

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